Surprise! I’ve lived by a rule of thumb, and didn’t recognize it until recently. It is wonderful realizing that some sort of rational pattern exists, especially one that I didn’t have to consciously research and develop. Whether I am working or playing is partly driven by what is evidently my rule of 7.
Shall I bemoan my situation yet again? I don’t feel like it, but I’ll throw in this synopsis for those who have only recently begun reading my blog. Regular readers are welcome to skip ahead. I am working hard because money is tight. Until recently I considered myself semi-retired, but losing over 90% of my net worth challenged that label. Especially since early August, when I was hit by a Triple Whammy, I’ve been working almost every day. My writing, photography, speaking, and consulting have kept me busy and are helping establish the foundation for my business, but those revenues barely keep the business running. After about a month went by without a bounceback in my portfolio, I launched into the job hunting scene. Six months later and no real results. (See My Jobs Report for details.) In the meantime, I’m paying bills by selling stocks from my depressed IRA, which is not an uplifting experience. But I am working hard and have good reason for hope and optimism.
I’ve received more than enough advice about what to do with my life. Many have said I should work harder. Some have said I am working too hard. A few have said both. Most see my current busyness and think it has always been this way.
Tradition and the American work ethic says that anyone who works hard will be rewarded. Okay. That sounds good. But I’ve worked until burnout before and it is possible to have too much of a good thing. On the less conventional side, at least for America, one friend stated that my karmic bank balance is looking very good. Cool. Ideally what goes around comes around; therefore, I should just relax and everything will be fine, and that working too hard can actually get in the way of good fortunes. I can’t see a way to do both, but I do know that at least one important thing is working in my favor. This situation is temporary. Every situation is temporary, and that’s always been the case.
Once upon a time I was a millionaire. That’s why I semi-retired at 38. At that time, the semi- part was added because I knew I wouldn’t simply sit on the porch and drink the rest of my life away. I wanted to do things, so I started a business teaching karate as a personal trainer. The internet bubble popped, for complex reasons the stocks didn’t get sold, a divorce happened, and the millionaire label fell off. It was good that I had my business, so I expanded it into writing, which led to photography, which has led to speaking and consulting. As the economy worsened I worked harder. Now, my situation is to the point where I work almost every day. I took longer vacations when I had a regular job. Entrepreneurs rarely get time off when there’s a business to build.
I’m working almost every day. This situation is temporary. What was it like before this temporary situation? What it was like when I had more money? I hiked more. I read more. When I write I don’t read because I want to maintain my “voice”. There was one very nice gap between writing Twelve Months at Merritt Lake and writing Dream. Invest. Live. It was long enough for me to read every book in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series. Laughter is great medicine. My health improved from such a prolonged exposure to funny. Back then my net worth was about halfway of “enough” and I was only working about half the days.
About a week ago the mathematician in my kicked in and saw three data points: lots of money and hardly any days working, halfway there and working about half of the week, and very little money and working almost every day. For every hundred thousand dollars added to my net worth I tended to take a day off from work every week. If I was broke I’d work every day. Get above $100,000 and take a day off every week. Make it $200,000 and get a weekend. At $300,000 stacking a couple of three day weekends together makes for some long hikes again. Over $400,000 and the balance has tipped to mostly relaxed. From $500,000 it is possible to see weeks that are entirely free, but $300,000 is within sight too. At $600,000 momentum with a big of gentle push may get to $700,000. From $700,000 and above there were only occasional works days, just for fun, and to keep somewhat engaged. (Corollary: It doesn’t take a million to be retired, for me.)
When I was worth over a million it was hard to imagine being worth as little as I have today. From where I am today, it can be hard to imagine being fully retired. Now that I recognize my Rule of 7, I see the progression as a series of smaller steps, rather than an stark contrast between extremes. Small steps are easier to take.
My Rule of 7 is not a law. It is a guideline, which means I’ll take a few small vacations, though my next one may be a stay-cation. It also means that, even as a millionaire there are jobs that I would love to take on. Reusable launch vehicles? Yes! Redesigns of my oceanic plastic extractor, or managing an innovative way to sustainably fund grad students, or playing with my fresh ideas, or, or? Of course! Then the work days are play days too.
So much of retirement planning didn’t make sense to me because it was treated as an either/or situation. Either I would be working or I would be retired. Too much of our world is described by the extremes. There is a vast middle ground of moderation and alternative solutions. Part-time jobs live in that middle ground. Currently I am financially uncomfortable, but I know I have a lot on my side. I’ve invested in companies that are making good progress, though I wish their stocks were valued accordingly. I enjoy my work, and think it can pleasantly and profitably expand. Each of those can step me back up through my Rule of 7. I like to hike. I know how far I can go by simply taking steps.
Of course, I wouldn’t complain if I replaced those steps with one large leap from a major windfall. I’ll check my lottery ticket in a little while. Stay tuned.